It may sound flippant or even seem too obvious to mention, but when you have been shooting at the same target for a long time without hitting a bull's-eye, change your target. Suzuki has never strayed far from class leadership in handling or suspension, and especially in the last few years, its bikes have been really competitive. But when we get all the bikes on the track at once, it is rare that a yellow machine dominates. The frustrating thing is how close they have come. They aren't losing by a knockout, more like a split decision. And while quick handling has had an effect on the outcomes--one man's cutting edge hacks away at another man's comfort zone--the power character has been the difference. The truth is Suzuki's tendency to produce motors that make go-power via rpm has been a negative factor.
The '04 250's engine overhaul created big boost. Along with the motor improvements, the new RM250 also received a switch back to Showa suspension as well as some needed changes in braking performance and rider positioning.Suzuki now has engines that seem able to stand toe-to-toe with the toughest bullies in either class--not just on the straights and hardpack but off the starting gate, out of deep and loamy berms and up sandy hills. Both RMs hit hard, pull long and strong and pick up each gear quicker than spilled M&Ms; at a Weight Watcher's meeting.In the 250cc class, the RM250 has usually lacked the results even the yellow 125 generates, for much the same reason. The motor is zingy when modern tracks and riders demand grunt and tinny when it should have torque. For 2004, the powerplant received some major changes to make it sound deep and scary-fast on the uphills. It puts the massive mid-punch power to the track better and pulls higher gears (similar to four-strokes). The motor has plenty of power down low and through the middle of the powerband, and revs out quickly at higher rpm. Cahuilla Creek was a great test of the engine, and the Suzuki had no trouble pulling a tall gear anywhere on the deep, loamy track, yet its power delivery was very smooth and responsive.The brakes received the same changes as the RM125, which not only increased the braking power but also helped shave some weight and increase durability. How's that for win-win?The suspension and handling are very balanced, and the new-to-the-250 Showa components have the necessary plushness for lighter testers, though some softened the compression two or three clicks at each end. Bottoming resistance has also been improved over last year's bike with the new bottoming cones that prevent metal-to-metal clank. The 250 tracks and turns impressively, and at least part of that prowess can be credited to its refined ergonomics. As on the 125, the seat is 10mm lower, but its pegs were relocated 10mm farther back and the handlebar mounts raised 7mm.The combination of changes and the firm yet plush seat foam (which rivals Honda's) make rider positioning a low-effort, intuitive task. The rider feels as if he is sitting down in the bike rather than on top of it, which makes turning easier and more fun.
The RM250 has always been known for precise handling, but the gnarly yet tractable power and more natural riding position calm the demanding chassis somewhat. Even though the 250 has a tighter fork offset than the 125, the stability at speed and safe feeling on high-speed straights and jumps is welcome.Our test crew has already ridden the 2004 Honda CRF450R and Yamaha YZ250, and those machines were the toughest competition the RM250 faced in 2003. Even so, the RM generated unanimous positive feedback from all. It looks like a great year to be yellow.